My wife and I were first-time cruisers on Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas for a 5-night Western Caribbean cruise with ports in RCI's private resort, Labadee, Haiti, and the relatively new port of Falmouth, Jamaica. We booked our cruise online with a deal RCI was offering to citizens of our state.
We chose not to book through RCI for our airline, finding that, with airline points I'd accumulated, it was cheaper just to book separately. We flew into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International at 11:25 PM and were at the port by about 12:30. Porters were there to take our luggage from us and get them to our rooms before we proceeded into the cruise terminal.
While there was a line, it was moving quickly, and we made it through the security checkpoint with little difficulty. After security, we got in line by deck number to check-in and get our Seapass cards. The representative was friendly and helpful, though I also say it's MUCH easier just to have all items necessary with you as you approach the counter, that is, your SetSail Pass, the credit card you wish to use for billing, and your citizenship documents (either a passport or, on a closed loop cruise like this one, your driver's license and birth certificate). We chose the latter route, and it didn't take us any longer to be processed. The Seapass card you are given serves as your room key, identification, and credit card while you're on the ship. It's nice having an all-in-one utility but you have to make sure you have it with you at all times.
The whole process from arrival took about 45 minutes, at which time we were allowed to head up to the Windjammer for lunch while our rooms were getting ready. It was mostly sandwiches available, along with hot dogs and hamburgers (I do recommend the turkey burger!), and by the time we were done with lunch we were ready to proceed to our rooms.
Staterooms: We were staying in a deluxe oceanview balcony stateroom on deck 6 (so the 'lowest' deck that still had balconies). The room was very nice and clean, it had a fairly large closet with hangers and shelving, a safe, and life jackets, along with room to set our suitcases in the bottom. There was a couch, a small glass table, a large vanity area with more shelving and storage, a 32-inch flat screen TV, and our bed (two twin beds pushed together with a pillowtop connector). The balcony was fairly large, with 2 ribbon chairs and a small table, plenty of room for 2 people to be able to stand and relax with ease. The bathroom wasn't large, but we had no issues getting around. The shower stall was probably the smallest feature in the bathroom, and I could see where someone of a larger stature may have difficulty getting in and out with ease. The stateroom TV had good reception, including a station (channel 20) that showed a lot of recent movies (basically any movie you could view in the ship's screening room could also be viewed on this channel), and a few other movie stations, along with the ship's internal stations, CNN International, ESPN, etc. There was a colder/warmer dial on the stateroom wall that served as your thermostat. But when we were in the room, we just had the door open to let the ocean breeze come in. Overall, the stateroom was excellent (and even bigger than what I expected).
Ship info: The ship is LARGE. The second largest ship-class in RCI's fleet (Oasis-class being the larger). The 'hub' of the ship is the Royal Promenade on Deck 5, sort of a Main Street that easily connects the forward and aft section of the ship with shops, bars (more on that later), and restaurants (more on that as well later). It's a perfect place to people watch while you grab a beer or ice cream, and there's usually some entertainment as well. The first night on board there was a parade, and then proceeding nights had a DJ playing some music during the evenings. Guest Relations and Shore Excursions could also be found at the Promenade level, and as far as the interior section of the ship went, it was where we ended up spending the most time.
There were plenty of lounges stationed throughout the ship for all styles, though we stuck with the Hoof and Claw on the Royal Promenade most nights. An English-style pub, the Hoof and Claw had the best selection of beer on the ship (and for a craft beer drinker like me, gave me some respite from Bud, Miller, Coors sold at most of the other bars on the ship). Prices were obviously higher than on the mainland, but I didn't find them outrageous. The staff was very friendly (shout-out to Suan), and they also had live entertainment via acoustic rock every night at 10. Smoking was allowed at the Hoof and Claw, but with both indoor and outdoor sections, I never really noticed a smoke haze. Other lounges on the Royal Promenade included the Champagne Bar, Vintages Wine Bar, and the Sphynx, which hosted karaoke each night. The Schooner Bar was on Deck 5 (with piano-stylings in the evening), right next to the casino, and there were a few other lounges in the Deck 12-13 area, though I never saw those. There was also a few dance clubs throughout the ship, including The Catacombs and the Viking Crown Lounge if dancing is your thing.
The pools were located on Deck 11, which was also home to the Fitness Center (we did not partake--it was vacation), and then the Windjammer and other specialty restaurants (again, more on those later). The Solarium was the adults-only area, and made for a nice spot for those of us without kids. There was a pool deck with seating in the sun, but also plenty of space for shaded relief with a view of the ocean. Two cantilevered hot tubs jutted out from the ship in the Solarium as well, which looked cool, but I never went in them (something about 85 degree weather and a hot tub just don't mix for me). Towel stations were available between the two pool areas, and you could check them out with your Seapass (they had to be returned by your final night on the ship or you would incur a $25 charges). The Aft section of the pool deck include the main pool area (with more chairs) and included a big screen movie screen, a 'dance' floor, live music during the day, a tiered pool bar (which served delicious pina coladas, I should say), and a few more whirlpools. There was an H20 zone on the other side of the big screen for kids, that also had kid pools and smaller whirlpools. One of my favorite features of the pool deck was Sprinkles, a frozen yogurt station that served frozen yogurt all day starting at 11:30 AM. The strawberry was particularly good, and served as a nice refreshment during the hot days. I will say, seating could be difficult. After the first day at sea, it became clear that if you weren't on the pool deck by 9 AM, you might be stuck for seats (especially in the Solarium). The deck patrol was helpful in helping people find two seats together, but many people would reserve the seats and go to breakfast (which was allowed if done within 30 minutes). So I would recommend if you want a good spot, be sure to get out on the pool deck as early as possible. If not, you were usually relegated to Deck 12 up on the track area. If that happens, I recommended going to the aft-section of the ship, as far aft as you can go, and there were usually some non-crowded chairs back there with a great breeze.
The ship had tons of area to walk around, as I mentioned, there was a 'track' on Deck 12 that took you around the ship, but you could also walk on the outside areas of the ship on Decks 4 and 5. I would recommend at least once doing to Deck 4 and walking around the to the forward section of the ship (where the helicopter pad is), and taking in the winded view from a ship churning through the ocean. It's breathtaking.
Dining - The ship had dining available for anyone from foodies to the pickiest of eaters. The main dining room served breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with dinner obviously being the 'main' time for dining. You could be seated in one of the three seatings, "My-Time" dining, which allowed for dining at anytime during the dinner hours, 6:00 PM (our choice), and 8:30 PM. If you choose either 6:00 or 8:30, you had assigned seating usually on Deck 4 (The Michelangelo Dining Room), or Deck 3 (The Rembrandt Dining Room). I'm not sure how Royal Caribbean assigns tables, but they seem to do a great job of grouping people by age. We're a younger couple in our late twenties, and we sat with three other couples ranging from 25-30. And it was an incredible time. By the end of the trip, we were making sure to get emails and facebook account information to keep in touch. The food had a different 'theme' each night, and the three-course menu had both a rotating selection of dishes and then 'classic' dishes, which gave some continuity for the less-adventurous. I had something different every night (though I did find myself ordering two appetizers with one being the Caesar salad, as it was particularly good). The food, I found, was excellent. Portions weren't over-the-top, but when you're eating a full three courses, I found that helpful. Also, if you found yourself trying to decide between two dishes, just get both! The waitstaff had no problem accommodating two appetizers, two main courses, or even two desserts. My favorite dishes were, for the appetizer, the Smoked Fish Rillettes and, for the main entree, the Fisherman's plate the last night with lobster tail, shrimp, and vegetables. Dessert was excellent every night, but the Chocolate Sensation I had the first night (and was subsequently available every night) was a chocolate lover's dream, as well as the Baked Alaska. Overall, the food in the main dining room I found to be outstanding, and the waitstaff did a great job with recommendations (and even discouragement from certain dishes if he didn't think we would like them, for instance, a friend ordered pork one night and our waiter told him that he found the pork to be a little dry that night. My friend went ahead and got the pork, but when it indeed was a little dry, our waiter promptly brought him a new dish).
The Windjammer/Jade we only ate at for breakfast and lunch (dinner in the MDR and also Portofino was too good to pass up). Both are buffet-style that feature both rotating and classic dishes. I've read reviews that panned the quality of food available in the Windjammer. If anyone's ever been to a 'gourmet' buffet--I've yet to see one--then perhaps you could scoff at the Windjammer, but for buffet-style food, I found the Windjammer to be well above-average. I would certainly pick the Windjammer over Golden Corral, Hometown Buffet, or any of the thousands of Calabash buffets found along the coasts. Plenty of food was available (and I mean PLENTY), and ranged from Asian dishes (the Pad Thai was very good), pizza, burgers, hot dogs and bratwurst, to fried chicken, fish, just about anything you wanted. I loved the french fries in the Windjammer. They ended up on just about every plate I made there. Also, I really enjoyed the white-frosted donuts during breakfast.
Johnny Rockets was available for a small cover charge, but as we have them at home, I wasn't tempted.
The Royal Promenade featured a few different restaurants, the no-charge Sorrento's and Cafe Promenade, and for-a-fee Cupcake Cupboard and Ben and Jerry's (as well as some selections at Cafe Promenade). Sorrento's Pizza was very good, and was a great afternoon or late night snack (it wasn't strange to see folks at 11:30 drinking a beer at the Hoof and Claw with a plate of Sorrento's Pizza). Sorrento's also offered some Italian desserts, as well as salads, paninis, and sandwiches. You could order pizza by the slice or by the pie. Cafe Promenade offered coffee all day, as well as specialty drinks that you could pay for a la carte, or, if you needed Starbucks, they had that as well a la carte. The coffee was Seattle's Best. Cafe Promenade also had (at no cost) treats like brownies, cookies, and other sweets to satisfy a sweet craving. I didn't try Cupcake Cupboard or Ben and Jerry's, but they seemed to be popular with other guests (Cupcake Cupboard offered cupcake decorating classes which seemed to be very popular).
Portofino and Chop's Grille were the two cover-charged 'upscale' restaurants on board. Portofino was Italian-Tuscan, and Chop's was more American steakhouse. We paid the $20/per person fee for Portofino and ate there the first night at-sea. It was superb. My wife and each ordered a salad and split the crostini for an appetizer (excellent), and fresh bread was also offered with a few different sauces and antipastos. The main dishes were extraordinary, and finally, we settled on the beef tenderloin. The portion size was excellent, the tenderloin was perfect, and the sides offered were delicious. For dessert, we chose the sampler, and couldn't even finish it all, as by that point we were stuffed. Many have called Portofino the best meal on the boat, and I would agree. My only criticism was that it did feel a bit rushed. While the MDR dinners seemed to last at least an hour and a half to two hours, we were in and out of Portofino in just about an hour.
We ordered no-fee room service for breakfast our first two days (the first day at sea, and the first port day). You could fill out your card the night before, hang it on your door with what time you wanted to arrive (within a half-hour window), and get it the next morning. Breakfast was a standard menu, coffee and juices, options for cereal and yogurt, 'hot' menu items like eggs, bacon, sausage, and hash brown, as well as fruit and toasts. It was great to sit and eat our breakfast looking out over the ocean, and our food was always prompt and still hot. They did, however, seem to bring more than what we asked for, which wasn't a problem, but I felt bad not touching the fruit plate when it wasn't ordered. They also forgot the coffee the second day. But the food quality was above average. They also offered appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and desserts (which we never tried).
There were drink packages available as well. Free on the ship was water, iced-tea, some juices in the Windjammer, and coffee. You could also purchase beverage packages for soda, as well as wine.
Overall, I found food quality on the ship to be excellent, and when you take into account the nearly 4000 people they feed every day, it was truly superb.
Activities and Entertainment- To be perfectly honest, we didn't participate in a lot of the activities on board, but that shouldn't be confused that there weren't a ton of things to do. The Cruise Compass delivered every morning offered a minute by minute breakdown of all the events happening on board, from karaoke, to fitness classes, to dance classes, to spa services, to movies, to trivia. Anything you really wanted to do was probably offered on board. There was a different show in the Platinum Theater each night, ranging from stand-up comedy to game shows to Broadway. We did, however, find ourselves one night watching Grease on the big screen by the pool. It was a sing-a-long version and actually very enjoyable. For the more adventurous, there was the famed FlowRider surfing simulator (with lessons available for a fee), a rock climbing wall, ice skating, mini golf, and a basketball court that hosted both pickup games and tournaments. There was a lot of shopping available on board as well. My advice, though, don't buy anything at-cost. Wait until later in the week and a ton of deals become available, from shirts 50% off to markdowns on watches, jewelry, and trinkets.
Service - Where to start? I never once encountered a crew member that wasn't extremely helpful, pleasant, or personable. It seems like every crew member I encountered more than twice knew me by name and was always seeking to make my time aboard better. The tipping guidelines set forth by the cruise line? I was happy to pay it. For each and every person. Our stateroom attendant, Emily, the first day stopped by just to welcome us aboard and give us a rundown of her services and information we needed while on board. She stopped in our room twice each day, usually to clean the first time, and the second time, to set out our Cruise Compass, and usually leave us with a towel animal. She was so incredibly nice to us. Once she saw me struggling to open my stateroom door with two coffees in my hand and came down to help me open it. She always greeted us by name when she saw us in the hallways, and once we called her to ask if we could get our disembarkation tags, and she was at our door in about 60 seconds.
The waitstaff in the main dining room, too, was extraordinary. Our assistant waiter (unfortunately I didn't really catch his name) was very nice, always there to refill our drinks and get us anything we needed. Samiran, our waiter, was the epitome of service-centered. As I mentioned earlier, he was great at recommendations (and even criticisms), he was very kind and helpful, always pausing to take a picture if we asked, and always gave us a full rundown of the menu. He also wanted to check every evening to make sure our dining outside of the MDR was satisfactory.
The other staff we encountered onboard, whether in the pub, guest relations, the pool deck, anywhere were incredibly friendly and personable. And always quick to call us by name. Even in the bars, where a gratuity was added to each drink, I found myself tipping above and beyond because of the great service we received. This was truly some of the best service I have ever encountered in my life and I would gladly cruise again with this exact same crew.
It also appears that the Guest Satisfaction Surveys are very important to the crew, so make sure you fill it out and drop it off at Guest Relations.
Disembarkation - The night before we got back to Ft. Lauderdale, we were assigned luggage tags with a 'release' number, to ensure that not everyone was disembarking at the exact same time. If you wanted to carry your own luggage, you could do that as early as 7:30. The rest of the ship was taken off in about 15 minute increments. Our time of disembarking was at 8:00 AM, though we started proceeding to the gangway around 7:50 AM. We stood in a line for about 30 minutes outside the ship before getting into the cruise terminal to pick up our luggage. From there, we entered another line to get processed through customs (which took about another 25-30 minutes). We ended up leaving the cruise terminal a little after 9 AM. In the future, we will probably just self-carry, but disembarkation seemed easier than I expected (though I would possibly recommend a jacket, as 8:00 AM in Ft. Lauderdale has the potential to be a little cool).
Summary - This was a truly, truly excellent cruise. Liberty of the Seas was an excellent choice for first-time cruisers and I would happily come aboard again. As I don't have a lot of experience cruising, I can't compare Liberty or RCI to some of the other cruise lines, but everyone I spoke to seem to greatly enjoy Liberty of the Seas and rated it one of the best in cruise industry. Liberty was incredibly, incredibly clean. I commented the last day I never saw a speck of dirt, and at the same time, never saw anyone actually cleaning it. Liberty was the perfect ship for our first time and I would highly recommend her to both first-time and veteran cruisers.